After playing three consecutive games against state top-five ranked teams, the Longhorns will receive a much needed schedule break tonight, Friday, in Whiteriver.
There, the Horns will take on, at 7 p.m., an Alchesay Falcon team still reeling from last week's 57-6 loss to Round Valley.
Alchesay, a school known more for its basketball successes than gridiron achievements, has dropped back-to-back East region showdowns to Blue Ridge, 57-0 and Snowflake, 47-26.
With a 0-3-region mark, the Falcons hold down the cellar-dweller spot along with the Longhorns, who are 0-3.
Which means, tonight's winner will escape the bottom rung in the standings and move all alone into fifth place.
Currently, Blue Ridge is 3-0 and atop the standings. Show Low, Snowflake and Round Valley are tied for second with 2-1 East credentials.
The Horns are a heavy favorite to emerge victorious against the Falcons but longtime East coaches would be quick to remind Payson faithful that anything can happen in Whiteriver where upsets have been common.
Payson will take to the Apache Reservation community a defense led by linebackers David Carlen and Tyler Savage,
Carlen, who plays the "Mike" or middle position, is second in the region in tackles with 98.
He led the East most of the season in takedowns, but recently gave up the No. 1 spot to Round Valley's Travis Trickey.
Savage, an outside linebacker, is ranked fifth in tackles, with 66.
Alchesay does not have a defender ranked among the top five in the East.
Offensively for Payson, senior fullback Nick Alexander leads the East in rushing with 750 yards, but hot on his cleats is Snowflake's Matt Reidhead, who has accumulated 657 yards.
Alchesay's Stephone Hanna leads Alchesay with 437 yards.
Against Alchesay, Alexander will be looking to rebound from his worst outing of the season in last week's 34-3 loss to Blue Ridge.
BR defensive coordinator Gary Williams's charges held Alexander to just 32 yards in 11 carries.
Of course, some of his inability to break free must rest on the shoulder pads of the offensive line that could not open holes against the lightning-quick Yellow Jacket defensive down lineman.
If Payson coaches decided to go to the airways, which seem likely since they'll want a well-balanced offense to call upon in the post season, quarterback Ridge Halenar has proven he's capable.
The 5-foot, 9-inch, 178-pound junior has completed 58 of 105 attempts for 682 yards and six touchdowns. He's been intercepted just three times.
His best outing was a 15-for-26 effort Sept. 21 in a 23-14 win over Bradshaw Mountain.
His favorite receivers have been
Tyler Savage, Shane Keith and Troy Brown.
A win over Alchesay, coupled with a season ending victory against Snowflake, could lift the Horns into a tie for fourth place in the final East region standings.
However, it appears the Horns postseason fate rests with the power point system that will seed teams into the tournament, based partly on strength of schedule.
The state tournament kicks off Nov. 9 at the home of the highest seed. The Horns have an 5-3 overall record.